Thursday, March 23, 2017

Reginald Foster: The Vatican's Latinist

I wanted to recommend this article on Reginald Foster, "The Vatican's Latinist," by John Byron Kuhner. Foster was "part of a small team of scribes who composed the pope’s correspondence, translated his encyclicals, and wrote copy for internal church documents" for over forty years.

He has done so much more, though. He also taught Latin at the Pontifical Georgian University and began an intense summer school program. "He He also tutored, kept up a vast correspondence, recorded a weekly radio program for Vatican Radio called “The Latin Lover,” did any interviews he could, and kept up his priestly duties, saying mass and hearing confessions. All this while serving as the pope’s Latin secretary." After retiring from these duties, multiple people had to be hired to carry on what he had started. The article is a fascinating look at an inspirational man and teacher.

It's remarkable to see what Foster accomplished, but even more so to see the ripple effect, what he has inspired. Other links associated with the article and Reginald Foster:
  • Ossa Latinitatis Sola: The Mere Bones of Latin According to the Thought and System of Reginald by Reginald Thomas Foster and Daniel Patricius McCarthy from The Catholic University of America Press. According to Kuhner, the book gives a sense of what taking Foster's Latin class was like. (Update: I just read elsewhere that this is the first of a projected five-part work. More on Foster's approach compared to other approaches can be found in this article.)

  • The Paideia Institute was originally started to keep Foster's summer school experience alive, and has quickly grown. Part of the Institute is the Eidolon publication, "an online journal for scholarly writing about Classics that isn’t formal scholarship."

  • Another organization inspired by Foster is SALVI: Septentrionale Americanum Latinitatis Vivae Institutum (North American Institute for Living Latin Studies). It's mission is "to propagate communicative approaches to Latin language acquisition, making the entire Classical tradition of Western culture more available to—and enjoyable for—students, teachers, and the general public."

  • In 1994, Alexander Stille wrote a lengthy article on Foster and his "quixotic but compelling" attempt to save Latin. The article was for "The American Scholar" and can be found on JSTOR (the title is "Latin Fanatic: A Profile of Father Reginald Foster" in the Autumn 1994 issue). Stille would expand the article and include it in his 2002 book The Future of the Past. (Hopefully more on that later.) Here's a sample from the article:
    “Why do you want to study Latin? The question is, Why don’t people want to study Latin?” he asks the class in a loud rhetorical shout, pacing back and forth in front of the blackboard. “If you don’t know Latin, you know nothing! I had my first experience of Latin forty years ago, and I have not been bored by Latin for ten minutes in these forty years. Latin is one of the greatest things that ever happened in human history.”

    When Foster begins to shift into high gear, he picks up in speed and volume, like a high-performance car moving into overdrive. “If you don’t know Latin, you’re sitting out there on the sidelines—don’t worry, most of the world is out there with you. But if you want to see what’s going on in this whole stream of two thousand years’ worth of gorgeous literature, then you need Latin."

  • Fr. Gary Coulter has a copy of the chapter in Stille's book online. Coulter's site on Learning Latin with Fr. Reggie Foster is a great resource by itself, with links to coursework, sermons, and Vatican Radio programs by Foster.

  • Last in this list, but certainly not least, is Foster's website, maintained by his collaborator Daniel P. McCarthy. It's great to see Foster still active and teaching. Hopefully there will be more projects coming to fruition.

Update (9 Apr 2017): A review of Ossa Latinitatis Sola by Patrick J. Burns can be found here.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Jorge Luis Borges on Firing Line (1977)

I recently saw that "Firing Line" now has a channel on YouTube. I've mentioned the episode on "The Southern Imagination" a few times, with Eudora Welty and Walker Percy, and it is available here.

A different episode I wanted to share was the conversation with Jorge Luis Borges, recorded on February 1, 1977. If you're interested in Borges' work, I highly recommend watching the show. It's a wide-ranging discussion and Borges mind is a nimble match for Buckley's questions and comments. It's interesting to see the writers he esteems, such as Melville and Kipling, how he happens to read (or at this point, have read to him) more books in English than in Spanish, and why he believes Spanish too cumbersome a language for writing poetry.

Around the 40-minute mark Buckley and Borges take the discussion into political and nationalistic territory, but things get back on track about 10 minutes later when Borges begins to discuss teaching literature. Overall, it's a wonderful, lively conversation. Borges' endearing personality shines through, full of humor and self-deprecation. Here's one such example, starting at 8:20:
Buckley, Jr.: "Do you mean you have officially abandoned any intention of receiving the Nobel Prize?"

Borges: "No. I think it is a kind of game that is played every year. You know, every year I am to be given the Nobel Prize and then it turns out to be the next year. It's kind of a habit I have, or a kind of habit the Scandinavians have. In fact, it might be called an old Norse tradition, you know, not to give me the Nobel Prize. That's a part of Norse mythology. I'm very fond of Norse, all things Scandinavian. I love all things Scandinavian."

Buckley, Jr.: "Is it your point that you would lose respect in the Nobel Committee if they awarded you the prize?"

Borges: "I would think it was a very generous mistake, but I will accept it greedily."


Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Furious Sound

Last night my son was watching Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage while I was fixing dinner. At one point I asked him to repeat a scene: "Did I just see Geddy Lee reading Faulkner?" Yes. Yes I did.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Meister Eckhart and The Joshua Tree

There was a flurry of news last week celebrating the 30th anniversary of U2's The Joshua Tree, and it brought back a fond memory I've always associated with the album. I hope you'll indulge this onion-on-my-belt moment...

The weekend after the album was released, I caught a flight to spend a weekend with my brother. I had copied a few albums to cassette, one of which was The Joshua Tree, to play during my flights. I ended up being the last person to board a full Southwest flight, so the only place open was a center seat near the back. The aisle seat was occupied by a bearded man I would guess to have been in his mid-30s. As he stands up to let me in to my seat, I notice he's reading a book about Meister Eckhart. After I get settled but before he had a chance to resume reading, I took a guess and asked, "Are you taking a course on mysticism?"

The look of disbelief on his face was priceless. He turned the book over so I could see the cover and replied, "Yes I am. Are you familiar with Eckhart?" I had to admit that I had only tried to read some of his work when I was in high school and didn't get very far. It turned out he was working on his doctorate at Southern Methodist University (another coincidence...from my office I had a beautiful view of the campus) and was doing some research. He was very gracious and patiently answered some questions I had and we had a brief discussion on other books he had to read for the class. I could tell he wanted to get back to his book, so I thanked him and put my headphones back on to listen to U2. Later, as we're getting off the plane, he laughed and shook my hand. "The guys in my class aren't going to believe this," he said, gesturing with his book toward me.

While it was an inconsequential episode, it has obviously stuck with me for some reason along with the association.

Friday, March 03, 2017

I wish I could come up with a catchy post title

I hope to post soon on some of the books I've read over the past few months. I can't make any promises, but I really want to relay a few comments on some of the better ones. Much depends on...well, a lot of things, not the least on some follow-up surgeries to help relieve the intense pain I've had for the past six+ months. It's remarkable the change in mindset that can occur in such circumstances.

Sorry for going into personal detail, but I wanted to say the blog and I aren't dead. Yet. Hopefully we'll both feel like rejoining the world of the living soon.